Food photography is a lot harder than it looks! One of the keys to getting amazing shots is to master your shutter speed. Find out the secrets the pros use, plus the ONE thing you MUST remember every time you take a shot!
Anybody who is serious about food photography (or even just does it for fun) knows that there is WAY more than just “pushing the button” to get a good picture. So many factors combine to get that PERFECT shot.
One thing that can make or break your shot is your shutter speed. It’s critical to use the right speed in the right situations.
Shutter speed simply refers to the amount of time the “shutter” (think of it like a little window that opens and closes in your camera) stays open. It’s the shutter that lets light in and allows the picture to be created. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light is let in.
Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. On your camera, if you see the number “30” for your shutter speed, what that really means is 1/30th of a second. The only time that number won’t indicate fractions of a second is if you see a number with a quotation mark behind it (like this: 1″). That means your shutter will stay open for a whole second. Even though one second doesn’t seem that long, it actually is a REALLY long time when you are taking pictures. When your shutter stays open too long, your pictures will be fuzzy at best–totally blurry at worst. One of the reasons for this is:
No matter how still you hold your camera, you are still going to move a little. Just by breathing, you are moving your camera. When your camera moves, your subject becomes blurry. It might not be SUPER blurry, but it won’t be crisp. When we are shooting food, we REALLY want our subject to be as crisp as possible. That means that you’ve got to eliminate camera shake as much as you can. There are two ways to do this:
Use a High Shutter Speed
The higher your shutter speed, the faster that little window inside your camera will open and close, and the less chance there is for movement to occur during that time. When I say a “high” shutter speed, I mean a fast shutter speed. For example, 1/200th of a second is faster than 1/30th of a second.
The basic rule of thumb is that if you are hand-holding your camera, your shutter speed needs to be TWICE the length of your lens. So if you are using a 50mm lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/100th of a second. If you are using a 100mm lens, your minimum shutter speed should be 1/200th of a second.
Another reason you may want to use a high shutter speed is to do “action shots.” These are shots of food in motion. Here you can see samples of pictures using different shutter speeds and how it affects the motion in your pictures.
Note the shutter speed and other settings under each picture.
You can see that a shutter speed of 1/500 is not fast enough to completely freeze the falling drops of lime juice. Sometimes you don’t want to freeze the action, because you want to show motion. Other times, you do want to freeze motion, so you’ll have to use an even faster shutter speed, like in the picture below.
In the picture above, I’ve used a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.
Use a Tripod
Using a tripod will almost entirely eliminate camera shake. (As long as you don’t bump the camera or tripod!) If you are shooting in low-light situations, or if you are trying to do an action shot, a tripod is almost a must. (You can do some action shots without one, but they are definitely more difficult!) When you use a tripod for your action shots, you set the timer and then start the motion right before the camera takes the picture. It will take you several tries to get it right! Don’t worry. It’s all part of the process. For even more control, you can get a camera remote and click it exactly when you want the picture to be taken.
Main Points of Mastering Shutter Speed
- If you are hand-holding your camera, remember the minimum shutter speed needed for the particular lens you are using. Your shutter speed should be twice the number of your focal length. (Actually, the number will be twice the inverse. Remember that shutter speed is calculated in fractions of a second, so it will almost always have the number “1” on top, like 1/60th, 1/200th, etc.)
- The higher the shutter speed, the sharper your pictures. (Other factors come into play to get sharp pictures, and they will be addressed in future lessons).
- In low light situations, or when doing “action” pictures, use a tripod and set the timer or use a remote.
- Practice using lots of different shutter speeds to see the effects. Keep in mind that your exposure (how light or dark your picture is) will change if you only move your shutter speed. If you want your exposure to stay the same, you’ll have to either adjust your aperture or ISO. (If what I just said is confusing to you, stay tuned for future lessons where I’ll teach you all about aperture and ISO!)
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments! And if you missed my first article in this series, be sure to go back and read it! It’s called The Two Essential Lenses for Food Photography.
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